How The Mural Came To Mexico

  • The following is the text from Bob Peel's Column "Empire State" published at the time the mural was being installed.
    It is a labor of love.

    Bob Johnson installs the new wood Fram around the panels Some might say Mexico High School is simply redecorating its entrance hall and central staircase. Look twice and you might persuade a few more to admit the school is using pretty fancy wallpaper.   But it is so much more than that. 

    So much more it conservatively can be called a truly historic, artistic and patriotic honor to our country. It can come close to being upstate New York's Liberty Bell.

    The story begins in 1937 when the Mexico school was being rebuilt after a disastrous fire. The architect did much more than connect a series of cubicles. The library, for instance, is an exact model of the main reading room of the Boston City Library. Sturdy oak paneling is another feature.

    That entrance hallway looks in at a double staircase where, today, 1,000 students and faculty pass every weekday. Dominating it back in the '30s was a series of murals commemorating the victories of the American Revolution.

    For more than 40 years the pupils and teachers must have appreciated the impressive decoration. But its most appreciative admirer arrived in September of 1978. That is when Paul Seversky came from Endicott to assume duties as high school principal.

    The mural all but hypnotized him from the start. He had to learn more about it. Among his first discoveries was the production or printing was by a highly developed French method using hand-carved, wooden blocks. Some 1,650 blocks had applied more than 200 individual colors.

    The first production was completed in France in 1851 to celebrate the 75th anniversary of La Guerre d'Independance, the French title for the work. Another 75 years later the French ran off another set for our Sesquicentennial. That job ran a little late; they had to redo many of the original blocks.  Then, in World War II, more of the blocks were lost even though they had been hidden away in a cave from the bombing.

    Scenes shown in the impressive mural included LaFayette leading American troops, George Washington triumphantly entering Boston, General Washington again in a battle at Niagara Falls, another English defeat in Virginia, and the final surrender of Cornwallis.

    But the Mexico school only had 14 of the complete total of 32 panels. There was ample room left (many feel it was no coincidence) for the display of the full mural.

    Principal Seversky decided that, although the delicate art had held up amazingly well for over 40 years, it was time to replace the mural.

    The Search
    It wasn't easy. Research traced its way through museums, libraries, college campuses, interior decorating experts and, finally, to the White House. The curator there revealed Jackie Kennedy had the full mural installed but that succeeding first ladies did not share her enthusiasm. It was put up and taken down so many times it now has more wrinkles than an elephant.  And it is separated: Half is in the presidential dining room and the other half is in a diplomatic meeting room.

    Then came the discovery. A full set of the 32 panels of the 48-foot mural was practically unearthed in a warehouse in Philadelphia. The owner of the art importing firm was so impressed with the school's enthusiasm for the project she agreed to sell the full set for the wholesale price of $15,500. It was necessary to promise, however, extreme precautions would be taken to fully protect the mural. That would bring the total cost to about $21,500.

    All panels of the La Guerre D Independence

    It was no obstacle. Seversky's dedication was contagious. What made it even easier was the deep pride the community has in the school. Former graduates, whether they now had their own children in school or had long since left the area, wanted to have a share in the success.

    Individual panels could be subscribed at $650 each, but any size contribution was accepted gratefully. There are already 21 sponsors for the entire 32 panels. The project is within several thousand dollars of being fully underwritten. 

    The faculty, student government and school board all gave their support. A contribution came in from a student who graduated almost half a century ago.  Local businesses made contributions. One gift came from the Mexico Volunteer Fire Department. It was the first time in history that organization had used its funds for anything other than firefighting equipment.

    So many of the donors are graduates of the school and most of them have the same thought: It is their way of repaying a debt to "their" school, their way of showing affection.

    Principal Seversky, the shepherd of that flock of school admirers, is certain the new installation will be complete this year.

    Protection plans are well thought out In addition to a chemical coating which allows the mural paper to be wiped clean with a cloth, each panel will be installed so that it can be taken down from the wall in the event ceiling or roof repairs are needed at a later date.

    There also will be a cover of quarter-inch tempered glass in front of each panel and tinted glass will be placed in the outside windows so the sun will not harm the art. Indirect lighting will be installed.

    It is a most remarkable undertaking and Seversky credits the entire community with making it possible. Among those especially singled out are Chester Sagenkahn, the interior decorating expert who found the full set of panels and devoted himself to the project, and Arthur Friedel, a partner in the school architectural firm of Sargent, Webster, Crenshaw & Folley (also sponsors of a full panel) who has walked the job through, step by step.

    So later this year the public from all over will be able to view what must be the only complete hanging of a mural honoring our struggle for independence. All made possible by a labor of love from a school with a heart.